After Virginia Lt. Gov. L. Douglas Wilder addressed the NAACP Freedom Fund Banquet in Lynchburg recently, a newspaper in that industrial city suggested that President Reagan would have been run out of town if he had delivered Wilder's speech.
What Wilder, the nation's highest elected black state official, told the audience was not to be afraid to accept menial jobs, to shun "black talk," say "yes, sir" and "yes, ma'am" and accept some of the blame for the plight of their race.
In speech after speech, Wilder, who surprised many politicians with his Nov. 5 election here, is telling black audiences something that he says white politicians can't suggest: Stop making excuses and take control of your destiny.
Before largely black audiences in Washington, Baltimore and Boston, and in Hampton, Va., and Lynchburg, Va., the soft-spoken Virginian is echoing the Rev. Jesse Jackson and other black leaders, preaching against promiscuity, laziness and pornography. But Wilder, a 55-year-old Richmond lawyer who calls himself a conservative on many issues, is delivering his message with low-key rhetoric that warns blacks not to expect the government to resolve many of their problems.
"Yes, dear Brutus, the fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves," he told his Lynchburg audience.
While winning praise from many, including white conservatives, his theme is upsetting some blacks. A journalist chided him after a Washington speech, saying he should "talk about how difficult it was" for him to become the first black elected to statewide office in Virginia.
Wilder gave no quarter then, and in an interview in his office here he said that his speaking plans are unchanged despite the criticisms.
"Some blacks don't particularly care for me to say these things, to speak to values," he said. "Somebody's got to. We've been too excusing."
He freely conceded that his message is more moral than political, something unusual for Wilder, who earned a reputation during his 15 years in the state Senate as one of the legislature's most adroit deal makers.
Wilder said he does not consider himself religious, but that his speech reflects the precepts of his church-based upbringing and the role models of his youth: Horatio Alger, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Emerson, Cicero, Martin Luther King and Mary McLeod Bethune.
The lieutenant governor implores his listeners to "redig the wells our fathers dug . . . not just the rendition of Alex Haley" (author of "Roots") but also of "pride in endeavor and accomplishment . . . discipline of mind and body . . . and of healthy and competitive challenge, not succumbing to those who talk about taking the shortcuts."
Wilder brushes aside suggestions that blacks need special qualifications to succeed. "If you know you have to be doubly prepared, be doubly prepared, and then get on with doing the job," he told the Black Students Law Association at Harvard University.
"God knows, if we can do it in Virginia, we can do it anywhere," he said of his election.
While he doesn't downplay the significance of his victory last November, he says that Virginians did something more important than electing the first black or the first woman, state Attorney General Mary Sue Terry, to hold statewide office in the state. The voters, Wilder said, picked "a poor white boy [Gov. Gerald L. Baliles], a poor white girl and a poor black boy. None of us were to the manor born."
Wilder rejects the idea that the problems he addresses are "black problems." At a conference on the black family at Hampton University, he asked the audience: "Are they black problems, or problems that affect us disproportionately because of blackness? The problems of black families, black values, black leadership, and black solutions, may be overstated.
"Only when America understands that there are not black problems, but American problems, will we be able to solve them."
His speeches, while delivered without the emotional fervor of a Jackson or King, generally win applause and Wilder won high marks from many college students recently.
Cedric Harte, a Hampton University freshman from Richmond, said Wilder is saying "what the black family needs to hear, that it is still the root" for problem solving.
"We have to educate our people, educate our generation," agreed Alonzo Carter, a senior from Ashland, Va. Carter said that Wilder "probably will be our next governor."
"We are at fault, to an extent," said George McDonald, a political science major from New York City, but he said the message takes on a different meaning when "it comes from Lt. Gov. Wilder than from [New York Sen. Daniel Patrick] Moynihan and other white politicians."
But Kirk Weems of Montclair, N.J., said that Wilder should have put some of the blame for black job problems with "the corporate managers."
Wilder aims much of his message at young blacks, and expresses concern over illegitimacy and the disintegration of the family.
"Where have all the fathers gone?" he asks. "How can future generations sing of their father's pride, when almost an entire generation is going fatherless?"
He also criticizes blacks who say it is "necessary to teach in rap talk and rhyme in order for our youngsters to learn," and asks: "Can you imagine Washington's farewell address, or Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, being so taught?"
And he says that censorship is a reasonable response to pornography declaring. "Our founding fathers never meant to protect the trash our children are subjected to," he has said.
Wilder's Lynchburg speech won such lavish praise from the conservative Richmond News Leader that Wilder responded, in mock embarrassment: "One of us must be doing something wrong."
The newspaper printed the text and, in an accompanying editorial, called it an "extraordinary speech."
"Too many of our politicians spend too much of their time insulating people from hardship," the newspaper said. "A few, like Doug Wilder, are in the business of leading . . . . Doug Wilder's truths are pure essence."
A spokesman for Wilder, who earns $28,000 a year in what is regarded as a part-time job, declined to discuss what fees Wilder is receiving for his speeches and trips. Joel Harris, a chief aide to Wilder, said that disclosing the information would be "unfair to those who cannot afford honoraria."
Under Virginia law, Wilder is not required to disclose this income until next January, when state officials file an annual report of such income.
In the District of Columbia, some members of the D.C. Democratic State Committee said that their group is paying Wilder $1,500 to headline the party's May 1 Kennedy-King Day speech.
"We had to do quite a bit to get him," said Barbara Garnett, executive director of the party. "He was supposed to leave Chicago and go either directly to Houston or Dallas. We begged him to come here first. He's a hot property."
The largely middle-class audience at the $75-a-plate dinner in Lynchburg "understood and agreed with what he was saying," said Garnell Stamps, chairman of the NAACP executive committee there.
Stamps said that some in the audience of 400 found Wilder's remarks "strange" and interpreted them as courting conservatives for support in the 1989 gubernatorial campaign. But most knew that "Doug Wilder was a liberal before he was elected, and he is still is one," Stamps said.
Moreover, Stamps said, he agrees with Wilder that "someone has to say it." The NAACP official said that Wilder is "one of a kind, a fraternity of one. It's timely, and we applaud him."